Committee cuts county budget
FARMINGTON - The budget committee made significant cuts to the proposed county budget Thursday evening, cutting a parking lot refurbishment, funds for a police vehicle and commissioner flex benefits to trim roughly $85,000.
The budget committee, made up of nine selectmen from Franklin County towns, voted on all 14 departments of the $5.27 million budget for fiscal year 2012-2013. The meeting followed Monday's public meeting on the budget, which mostly focused on program grants.
The two biggest cuts made by budget committee members were to capital expenditures. Out of the Courthouse Department, $24,000 slated for repairs to the nearby parking lot were cut, while another $23,500 was pulled out of a Franklin County Sheriff's Department budget line relating to the purchase of new vehicles. $98,500 had been recommended by commissioners for the purchase of new cruisers.
Roughly $20,000 was cut out of flex benefits for commissioners and the county treasurer. Budget committee members spent some time discussing the reduction, with some members saying they didn't believe that the elected officials should receive benefits.
"I've never understood why they receive benefits," Committee Member Terry Brann of Wilton said. "They're elected officials. I think that's excessive."
Committee members opted to cut half of the flex benefits line for the three county commissioners and the county treasurer, total reductions of $14,562 and $6,368 respectively. They opted not to reduce flex benefits for other, full-time elected officials such as the Register of Deeds or Probate.
Several program grants were cut from the amounts recommended by commissioners. Tri-County Mental Health's funding was cut in half, from $20,000 to $10,000, while Western Maine Transportation's allocation was reduced by a quarter, from $20,000 to $15,000. SAVES' allocation was reduced slightly, from $11,380 to $10,000. Generally, committee members expressed concern with role of those organizations in the community, and whether they were having a significant enough impact to warrant taxpayer funding.
Committee members discussed increasing Western Maine Community Action's funding, but then narrowly voted to follow the commissioners' recommendation to raise and appropriate $33,000. The organization had requested $49,500, representing a return to the 2010-level of funding; WMCA received $40,000 at last year's budget committee meeting. The $33,000 represents the funds WMCA received prior to 2010.
Committee Member Carey Keep of Rangeley Plantation suggested that funds saved through other reductions could support WMCA, maintaining the bottom line. Committee Member Ryan Morgan of Farmington, who recused himself from the eventual vote due to a relationship with the agency, noted that the WMCA weatherization program helped save town general assistance funds.
"When I look at where General Assistance heating is going," Morgan said, "I cringe."
The committee voted 4 to 3 to maintain funding at the $33,000-level.
Committee members also flat-funded Adult Education, a roughly $700 reduction from the requested amount. Committee members said it was their way of showing concern with MSAD 58 not consolidating with the Mt. Blue RSD-operated program earlier this year. Morgan said the current system was unfair to non-MSAD 58 towns, which supported adult education through both their school and county budgets.
Total cuts to program grants equated to roughly $17,000 in reductions to the budget.
Offsetting the $85,000 in reductions was the addition of $60,000 under a new department called 'Debt Service.' Those funds are being set aside for the first debt service payment on the $598,300 dispatch center project, which would be paid for through a 15-year bond. Voters will actually decide whether or not to proceed with that project on June 12.
Commissioners will meet on June 19 to take a final look at the budget. Commissioners could alter aspects of the budget if they voted unanimously, but the budget committee would then have the option of overruling any changes with a two-thirds majority vote.